Within the aviation industry, there is a growing need to develop and standardize airframe specific training to improve maintenance knowledge retention and overall quality. During extended deployments, it is not only challenging to pull personnel out of the field for training, but also time-consuming, expensive, and frequently impossible. Staying up-to-date on aircraft technical product changes for numerous systems poses more challenges. Immersive technology is transforming the way the Department of Defense (DoD) implements military training. With the DoD investing an estimated $14 billion per year in synthetic digital training and the Pentagon projected to budget $11 billion towards virtual, augmented, and mixed-reality training systems by 2022, defense contractors must prioritize innovative training solutions. Doing so will result in improved knowledge retention, resulting in a better-informed workforce supporting the nation’s warfighters and ultimately increase readiness to customers.
The Future of Predictive Maintenance
Aftermarket aerospace defense contractor, Vertex Aerospace, headquartered in Madison, Mississippi, has stepped into the virtual world to offer enhanced aircraft maintenance. Mark Graham, Vertex’s Director of Quality, focuses on continuous improvement for the company and has worked with internal teams to develop a Virtual Reality (VR) maintenance training system called Vertex Virtual Training Solutions, or V²TS. The platform offers several advantages compared to more traditional training. V²TS’s elevated levels of customization and integration meets program support needs and allows customers to build, add to, and modify the out-of-the-box trainer functionality to support the total product lifecycle of an aircraft. Graham says V²TS has the ability to produce high fidelity representations of “real world” systems using Computer-Aided (CAD) data, 3-dimensional (3D) scan data, photographs, and work instructions. This data can be leveraged to re-create an entire virtual aircraft, including legacy airframes within a scalable, object-oriented, development environment. By using innovations in machine learning, V²TS has addressed preventable escapes of quality and continuous improvement that historically have not been effectively corrected and sustained. “The realism of VR simulation is incredible at providing realistic scenarios,” said Graham.
Graham went on to say V²TS is a technology differentiator, providing a methodology, workflow and suite of productivity tools designed to reduce training development time and associated costs. Because V²TS is accessible via VR headset, desktop, tablet, and mobile devices, the platform provides a high level of flexibility with training. With over 100 locations worldwide, Vertex greatly benefits from the portability and accessibility of V²TS allowing the company to deploy the platform remotely. “V²TS also solves the challenge of finding qualified technicians to work on some of our more legacy aircraft platforms by providing better familiarization training resulting in higher confidence and first-time quality.” Employees are efficiently trained on all systems and subsystems across various environments in a safe and controlled space without physical limitations. “This familiarization ensures our technicians are fully equipped to meet and exceed our customers’ requirements as they are introduced to the flight line, hangar, and shops and enables us to preserve their capabilities without any impact to aircraft availability. V²TS propels Vertex into the future of predictive, reliable, and repeatable maintenance. This results in decreased training time, increased knowledge retention, and reduced aircraft damage which collectively accelerates operational readiness,” Graham added.
What Graham has learned is VR is suitable for different learning styles including newer technicians in addition to seasoned employees who might need refresher training. This is particularly important for technicians who were previously trained on legacy aircraft platforms while in the military or when OEMs launched the platform. Due to a lack of knowledge transfer, we continue to see a gap of qualified technicians which has become a major challenge in our industry. “V²TS enables us to train technicians on the various platforms resulting in a higher level of familiarization while also solving the challenge of finding qualified technicians.” This insight has been particularly helpful in providing T-45 Contractor Logistics Support for all US Navy and US Marine Corp Strike training. For over 20 years, Vertex’s Aerospace Defense Services (ADS) division has had the honor of providing intermediate level maintenance by testing and evaluating planned airframe and avionics modifications. Richard “Vinny” Caputo, Senior Vice President of ADS, says he is proud to oversee the 1,000 employees that make up the T-45 team who has delivered safe, mission capable aircraft supporting the annual production of over 300 Carrier Qualified Naval Aviators, 140 Naval Flight Officers, over 4,000 Carrier Arrested Landings, and controlled release of over 15,000 bombs in training. “Vertex’s focus on continuous improvement and innovation have paid off. Across the program, we expect a 40 percent reduction in training time, significantly less training resources needed, an increase in recall, and improved ground operations (GOPs) compliance,” said Caputo.
VR is rapidly evolving and proving to be a powerful game-changer in the defense industry. A virtual training environment is redefining how aircraft maintainers are training and enhancing necessary skills for mission-critical actions resulting in safer and more reliable aircraft. “This type of immersive technology being used for maintenance training streamlines business operations, provides efficiencies in employee training, and ultimately improves overall capabilities. We’re proud of our VR innovations to date and look forward to additional improvement allowing us to continue to provide customers high-quality, affordable readiness,” said Graham. More information about Vertex’s V²TS maintenance training solution can be found at vtxaero.com/v2ts.
Mark Graham Bio
Mark Graham, Vertex Aerospace Director of Quality, has over 20 years of experience ranging from quality management, customer service, and continuous improvement within the aviation and manufacturing markets. Graham’s 13-year aviation career began with Sikorsky in 2007. He later joined L3 Technologies in 2016 where he continued to expand his expertise in DHS/DoD contracting, operational excellence, and quality. Graham has held multiple positions in Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) and Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) environments including quality engineer, lean manufacturing coordinator, and quality manager. Prior to joining L3, he worked for DRS Technologies, where he spent 7 years in Elizabeth City, NC leading the quality department, resulting in delivering 98% First Time Quality (FTQ). In that position, Graham led a team of 23 employees overseeing the following functions: a certified AS9110 Quality Management System (QMS), FAA Part 145 Repair Station, Quality Assurance team, Continuous Improvement activities, Data Management, Training, and Estimation & Evaluation. Graham also served as a Liaison with the DCMA GFR. He began his career with Ford Motor Company in Norfolk, Virginia manufacturing the F-Series pickup truck.
Graham holds certifications as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001 and AS9100 and the completion of DCMA Government Ground Flight Representative (GGFR) training. He is also a 6 Sigma Black Belt and is currently a member of the American Society for Quality (ASQ).